Poison frogs are a family of diminutive amphibians renowned for their toxic qualities and often colorful appearance. They originate in the tropics of South America and southern Central America, where they are found in a variety of habitats and at elevations from sea level to high mountains above the natural treeline. Some species are found only in small areas, while others are associated with certain plants, such as bromeliads, which are used for reproduction.
The skin of poison frogs contains alkaloid toxins which are obtained from their natural diet of tiny insects. Most of these frogs are fairly harmless, even in the wild, but several extremely toxic species were used by the Choco Indians of Colombia to coat the tips of their hunting darts. Captive bred frogs do not retain the bulk of these toxins and can be considered harmless to humans. However, it is still unwise to handle them. Most of these frogs are at least somewhat shy, and the stress of being handled may be overwhelming. Possible chemicals on our skin as well as body heat can be a shock to the frog, and it is possible to damage the layer of slime that covers the amphibian's body. This is a part of the frog's immune system and once compromised can provide a foothold for fungal or bacterial infections.
Temperatures of 70-80°F are suitable for most species, with humidity ranging from 80-100 percent and a photo period of 12-14 hours daylight. Aquaria of at least 10 gallons should be used even for small frogs, and those kept in groups should be given plenty of space and cover to avoid conflict. Many species are notoriously aggressive and weaker or smaller frogs may be bullied and stressed to the point of starvation.
The tank itself can be as simple or elaborate as desired, but should include access to clean dechlorinated water, various hiding places (rocks, cork bark
, etc.), and live plants. The most common method of achieving this is by using a drainage layer at the bottom of the tank consisting of clay pellets (such as Zoo Med's Hydroballs
), which are inert and lightweight. A screening material is placed over the drainage layer, followed by a soil bedding
. This allows water to drain out of the substrate, leaving it moist but not wet or soggy. Many tropical houseplants will thrive in these conditions with adequate fluorescent lighting. Dry live oak, magnolia, and sea grape leaves (if obtained from untreated sources) make an excellent bedding on top of the soil substrate. These leaves hold up well in humid environments and will keep substrate from sticking to frogs in addition to providing hiding places throughout the tank. Sphagnum moss
and live mosses can also be used for this purpose. Water sources can range from shallow dishes to waterfall-fed ponds.
or screen covers
that are partially covered with plastic or glass to retain humidity are acceptable. Fresh air is also necessary, and can be provided by creating ventilation holes covered with mesh in the plastic backstrip of your canopy. Small computer fans are beneficial for drawing air through one opening and out the other end, providing ventilation that is often more than enough to prevent condensation from forming on the glass. A combination of live plants, excess drainage water, and misting the tank will provide plenty of humidity.
Poison frogs require lighting that approximates the visible spectrum and color temperature of the sun, though it does not need to be intense as they often receive only filtered sunlight in their natural habitats. Fluorescent tubes with a color temperature of approximately 6700 K are ideal. Compact fluorescent bulbs are more powerful, and are usually only suitable for larger tanks where overheating will not be a concern. Plant choice also plays a role in determining what type of light to use, as the foliage of certain plants may burn under intense light, while other plants such as some bromeliads will only achieve their brightest colors under intense light.
Stunning permanent displays can be constructed for poison frogs using expanding foam, silicone, plastic egg crate (used as a light diffuser in drop ceilings), and many other materials. Elements such as cork bark
can be used in conjunction with these materials to create incredibly realistic environments. A large vivarium that is carefully planned and constructed can be a real showpiece, complete with lush tropical plants, waterfalls, streams, deep pools, and even small fish. Please ask for our Vivarium Construction Packet or speak to an employee for more information.
Poison frogs can be maintained in captivity on a diet consisting mostly of flightless fruit flies. Other small feeders include certain ants, termites, and springtails. Some larger species will also accept tiny crickets, and the various small invertebrates that tend to colonize vivaria will likely also be eaten. Feeder insects should be dusted with a calcium supplement
regularly, and a multivitamin supplement
once or twice a week. Fruit flies are available in 32 ounce cultures which will produce flies for approximately one month. We recommend keeping at least two actively producing cultures on hand at a time for approximately 4-5 frogs. New cultures should be purchased before they are needed to ensure there are enough flies available to feed your animals. Feeding can be done daily or every other day, depending on the amount of insects used. Poison frogs will actively hunt, so uneaten insects that disperse in the tank will provide them with exercise.
We carry some of the more commonly available species, most of which are easy to keep and even breed under the right conditions. The green and black poison frog (Dendrobates auratus
), dyeing poison frog/blue poison frog (D. tinctorius/D. tinctorius "azureus"
), and bumble bee poison frog (D. leucomelas
) are all relatively large and highly visible, even in a well-planted tank. D. auratus
can be somewhat shy, but despite their common name they are available in a variety of colors and patterns.
Strawberry poison frogs (Oophaga pumilio
) are also available on a regular basis. These are smaller frogs of about one inch in length, but they can be extremely aggressive toward each other and even larger species. It is recommended that these frogs be kept individually or in male-female pairs to avoid aggression, although small groups may coexist in large vivaria.
When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring him home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life as your companion.
Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in reptile and amphibian digestive tracts, can cause severe illnesses in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling any animal. Please speak with your family doctor or veterinarian for more tips on preventing Salmonella, or please read our care guide Cleaning and Disinfecting Recommendations
for additional instructions.
When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring him home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our reptile room at 717-299-5691 ext. 1246 or [email protected]